Tom Edwards started professional life as a journalist before coming to fame as an offshore radio broadcaster and then BBC presenter. But his is a voice and face familiar to a generation of Londoners as the urbane and witty personification of Thames Television. In this exclusive interview for Transdiffusion, he tells of the ups – and downs – of life in front of the cameras at the backbone of ITV.
Tom, you’d become famous as a presenter of “Night Ride” on BBC Radio. What made you jump ship to Thames?
I’d got bored with my lot at the BBC and thought I’d just chance it. I went to see the boss at Thames. He said “Okay, Tom we’ll try you out for a day”. And I gave up my BBC staff position for this one day. I did the one day, the bosses seemed pleased, so I joined the ranks of Phillip Elsmore, Peter Marshall and of course David Hamilton – who is, to this day, a good fine mate.
Working at Thames Euston Road HQ (as with the BBC) was ideal for me personally. I lived in St Johns Wood and could get to the studios in seven minutes – ten if the traffic was heavy.
It must have been a very different job compared to Radio One
I loved the “buzz” of live television and although in a tiny studio with no one with me, all of Master Control were through a glass window. I found I had to throw all scripts away when “in vision”, which I did, and just be “myself”.
Like a stage actor, I had to adapt to whatever was thrown at me. A newsflash from ITN. A programme feed not there. Loss of sound or vision. It was just me. One camera. No floor manager, either!
And when it all went wrong?
The announcer was the all-moving all-talking human ident. On the programme schedule it said things like “Tom in Vis 10”, but it never was like that. It could be 5 seconds – or even once six minutes when all sources failed and I ad-libbed my way thru the TV Times thinking “this is the worst nightmare ever!”
And public loved it when things went wrong! After that night for days afterwards London cabbies would shout out in New Bond Street or wherever, “Oi Tom you cocked it up the other night!” You must all have been flying by the seat of your pants that night!
I do want to thank the Thames transmission controllers Tony, Roger, Duggie and Barry. The crew next door became fine mates and lots of jokes were played on one another, probably out of sheer boredom. The shifts were long but one had to be aware that anything could happen and with me as the announcer even if nature called I had to tell the whole control room I was going to the loo.
Thames had a lot of celebrities floating about. Did you ever get to meet any?
When sitting in make-up I could be next to all manner of people. Leslie Caron, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Margaret Thatcher, Lord Snowdon, HRH Prince Phillip – the list is endless and when on a regular visit to Las Vegas, Vic Damone announced to his audience at The Golden Nuggett “there’s the man who says goodnight to me every time I am in London”, well, fame at last!
You have a big fan base from your late night and through-the-night announcing.
I often wondered if anyone was watching in the early hours. There were thousands! I did my fair share of “thru the nights” but with the shape of things to come with no “in vision” announcing I knew for a long time maybe it was time to move on.
You also gained announcing fame outside of London, of course.
When I handed over to LWT on a Friday evening I would race home, pack and be on the 1930 for the weekend at HTV and then travel thru the night to be back at Euston Road studios first thing Monday morning. I was younger then!
I made many announcing friends – Peter Marshall, Phillip Elsmore, David Hamilton, Victoria Crawford in London; from HTV both in Cardiff and Bristol, Peter Marshall (again!), Peter Lewis, Annie St John, Keith Martin, Margaret Pritchard, Arfon Haines Davis, Dilwyn Young Jones, Jenny Ogwen and many many more.
I recall when LWT was desperately short of an announcer I did shifts for them. Michael Grade objected because I was on Thames every weekday. What the hell, it was all ITV anyway!
But to this day I still get letters from the fans of Thames. That type of announcing has gone now, of course. I’m saddened that “local” presentation on ITV has all gone except for the news. If you saw an announcer (wherever you were) you identified the face and voice with that station. Now these days it’s all beamed up from London with the “hard sell” that I suppose is important – more so today than it ever was.
In the late 1980s I realised that more and more the “in vision” spots were going. We as announcers were only seen when there was a breakdown, which didn’t bear well with me. I saw the writing on the studio wall and decided to leave for a TV show over in Los Angeles. The rest, as they say, is history.
You sound like you miss the Thames days.
I loved Thames and still do and whenever I see the ident, well, I sit here at home in a big big pool of nostalgia.
Looking back I am glad I joined Thames. It was one of the best TV companies I have ever worked for – and there have been many over my last forty years in broadcasting.
They say it’s a bad thing to look back. It’s not so, because all my memories of that era are happy ones.